The World Cup, friends in Johannesburg, and the ministry I was with in 2008 has offered the perfect trifecta of excuses to make a very big detour on my way home from the Czech Republic. I’m here for 17 days and will fly home on the 17th but I have been loving every minute so far. And just so we are all clear: no I haven’t gotten to a game but it has been awesome nonetheless.
Simply put, I love Africa generally and South Africa specifically. People who know me well will know I don’t use the following language lightly but I really feel that Africa as a whole is something that God has literally put on my heart. I have spent most of my life wanting to come here. Studying, reading, thinking and writing about the place is simply what I do. Spending a year here in 2008 was fantastic and now having the opportunity to return has been better than I could have imagined.
I wasn’t sure how coming back would feel. A lot can (and has) change(d) in a year and a half. However even amidst the culture shock I am reaffirming how much I love this place. I have reconnected with people and friends I haven’t seen for more than a year. I’m meeting new people who are here for the first time. It is chilly but beautiful. I am surprised about just how ecstatic I am to be here.
Many people have understandably raised the idea that if I love it so much why don’t I just return permanently? Good question. Many variables are in my life right now. Beyond this fall I have no clue what will happen. But I’m so thankful that God has allowed me to come back even for only a few weeks and simply sear South Africa into my heart, this time for good. I may not return permanently, I may not return for a year or more. But I will come back, that much is assured. And it will be fantastic in a way I am unfit to describe.
This past weekend was the final trip I had with my fellow ESI teachers for the year. We headed to the southern part of the Czech Republic, to the small town of Cesky Krumlov. It is a little touristy place on a beautiful curved river. The main activity of the weekend was a rafting trip on Saturday. The sun was out in force and while the river was far from white water the current took us along at a nice pace. It was really awesome to have this last week of fun and fellowship with my fellow teachers. A small story illustrates this.
After the rafting we had a dinner reservation at a nice local brewery restaurant. The dinner was nice but the main event in my mind was America’s opening game in the World Cup against soccer power England. I have always been a huge soccer fan and World Cups are the pinnacle of the game. I scream at every pass, shot and especially goal when I watch. I had brought the jersey of my favorite player to wear for the game but that was about it. However, a fellow ESI teacher had managed randomly to procure a number of USA flag cowboy hats, multiple red, white, and blue bandanas and even brought his grandfather’s American flag, which he wore as a cape.
Even as a soccer fan I can be pretty self-conscious but I figured this wasn’t the time to worry about such things. Soon I found myself walking through a small Czech town bedecked in hat and bandana. It was great, but better things were to come.
Right before the game starts the teams come out and the national anthems are played. To my shock and amazement, when the Star – Spangled Banner began all my ESI American friends shot up and started singing lustily. For a moment I was frozen. This was a Czech pub, other people were around and they were rooting for England. But then my amazement gave way to excitement and I shot up and joined in. It was probably one of the best moments of this year.
I love soccer and I love my friends and too often they are separate. But watching the game last night with everyone was as perfect an ending as I could make up for this year. This has been a great year and last night typified that for me.